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Medical fliers lead to a bit of confusion for senior citizens

WILLMAR -- The large print on the front of the flier is hard to miss: "Important Medicare information; requires immediate response."

On the form inside, Medicare beneficiaries are asked to check off the medical supplies they're using or might need in the future -- diabetes testing supplies, oxygen equipment, power wheelchairs -- and send in their name and phone number.

It sounds official and urgent. But if you read the fine print, it becomes clear the mailer isn't from the federal Medicare program; it's a business solicitation.

Since the start of January, the fliers have been arriving in numerous local mailboxes and have led to serious confusion, said Lisa Ziehl, operations director for Rice Home Medical.

"We've been getting so many calls," she said.

In some cases, seniors have filled out and mailed back the forms without realizing they're responding to a sales pitch, Ziehl said.

On Jan. 1 Medicare began allowing competitive bidding for durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies. The move is intended to encourage the market to set prices for home medical supplies and lower overall costs.

But competitive bidding has been implemented in only nine U.S. metropolitan areas so far -- and none are in Minnesota.

Even though seniors in west central Minnesota aren't affected, it apparently hasn't stopped some medical equipment companies from sending out mail offers, Ziehl said.

"It's one of the side effects of competitive bidding," she said.

Those who return the forms with their name and phone number could be opening themselves to sales calls they may not need, she said.

Ziehl said seniors who receive these notices should read them carefully first and look for the fine print. If there are questions, they should call their home medical equipment provider or health care provider.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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